Second Sunday after Easter
Fr. David Curry
Christ Church, Windsor
“I am the Good Shepherd”
This Sunday in Eastertide presents us with one of the great and most
familiar images of care, the image of Christ the Good Shepherd. It is
at once commonplace and yet altogether radical in its meaning. The root of
care is cure. The care, we might say, is in the cure.
Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” What distinguishes good
shepherds from bad is care. The Good Shepherd cares for the sheep.
The meaning of that care is that he lays down his life for the sheep.
There is sacrifice – the total giving of oneself for the good of another. It
is what we have been privileged to see in Holy Week, on the one hand,
contemplating the utter failure in and of ourselves to seek the good of one
another and, on the other hand, contemplating the sacrificial love of
Christ who alone accomplishes what belongs to our eternal good.
The Good Shepherd, and this is the great and wonderful paradox, is
also the Lamb of God. His sacrifice is the cure for our sins
but it also imparts his care for our lives. The pastoral ministry of
the Church is rooted in this sense of care which is often called “the
cure of souls.” It goes beyond the superficial and external matters of
comfort and ease and convenience to address the distempers of our souls, the
disenchantments of our hearts and the despair of our lives. There is no
pastoral care without the naming of the cure and there is no cure
without the acknowledgement of our need to be cured in the very root of our
being. Once again, it belongs to the pageant of Holy Week to point
this out to us. But it also belongs to the parade of Eastertide to
show that sacrificial love is a living love. It belongs to the divine
life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the divine love that has
been made visible in the passion and crucifixion of Christ and in the wonder
and triumph of Christ’s resurrection.
Jesus, as today’s Collect so marvelously puts it, is “both a sacrifice
for sin and also an example of godly life”. He is the sacrifice for sin.
He is the cure, the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.
He stands in the face of the destroyer of the sheep - ultimately our
sins are his destroyer even as our sins diminish and destroy us. He
is the shepherd who wills to be struck, not so that the sheep may be
scattered, but so that through his being struck and our being scattered,
he may gather us to himself. He gathers us through his care for us.
He cares for us through his cure for us.
He lays down his life, not simply because he is the Good Shepherd but
because the condition of his being the Good Shepherd, first and foremost, is
that he knows his sheep in his knowing and being known of the Father.
Everything is drawn into the knowing love of the Trinity. The
relation of the Son to the Father establishes the real context for the
meaning of Christ the Good Shepherd. He cares for the sheep because they,
we, belong to him. We are not our own. We are his and that alters
the whole question of care. It has altogether to do with the nature of our
humanity as constituted in the image of God. When we look at ourselves
existentially and practically, we forget and deny this. We deny the very
principle of the transcendence of our humanity which gives hope and
dignity to our very being even and precisely in and through our suffering
Because we belong to him, he cares for us; because he cares for us, he lays
down his life for us; “by his stripes we are healed.” He is our cure
and he has risen for our justification. His life becomes our life, a life
oriented to God through our love and service of one another made possible
only in the sacrifice of Christ.
Thus, he is also an example of godly life. “For even hereunto were
ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that
ye should follow his steps”. It should be our care to follow in the
steps of him who is our cure. There are things for us to lay hold of
actively. What he has done for us in his free-willing sacrifice -
justification is his cure for us - becomes the measure of his life in us
- sanctification is his care for us. The challenge for us is to act
upon it. But more than a constant challenge, it is equally our vocation as
belonging to our identity in the body of Christ.
The interplay between cure and care, between justification and
sanctification really, is crucial to the ordered life of the Church and
belongs especially to one of the distinctive characteristics of our Anglican
witness, now in such sad and sorry disarray. The Primate of The Anglican
Church of Canada has betrayed the basis of our participation as a full
and integral part of the Church Universal by suggesting that The Anglican
Church of Canada “may choose to walk apart”, thereby violating
the clear principle established in The Solemn Declaration
governing the bishops and synods of the Canadian Church, namely, that “we
declare this Church to be, and desire that it shall continue, in full
communion with the Church of England throughout the world, as an integral
portion of the One Body of Christ”. The Canterbury Connection, we might
say, has been called into question.
Regardless of one’s opinion on the matter of human sexuality, there
can be no doubt whatsoever that The Anglican Church of Canada as well
as The Episcopal Church of the United States of America have acted
precipitously and without regard for “the process of reception” that
has been the modus operandi of the Anglican Communion for several
decades, let alone ignoring the much more important matters of doctrine that
should inform and guide the actions of the churches of the Communion.
Whatever the blessings of friendships might mean, can there be any
doubt whatsoever about the doctrine of Christian marriage so clearly stated
in the doctrinal authority for Anglicans, namely The Book of Common
Prayer? In a rather gracious way, the Primates of the Anglican
Communion have given the North American Churches several years to correct
and reform themselves; in short, to repent and be renewed. Let us pray that
our Episcopal shepherds will care enough about the body of Christ to act in
accord with such careful and prayerful direction.
The extended care of the Good Shepherd for the sheep is, after all, the
Church’s pastoral ministry. It is wonderfully illustrated, among other
places, in the mosaic in the apse of the 6th century church of Sant’
Apollinare in Classe, near Ravenna on Italy’s Adriatic coast.
There, in a paradisal garden, the garden of the resurrection, perhaps?
stands St. Apollinaris in the centre under the cross, his hands
extended in prayer. He stands in the midst of the sheep, indeed, twelve
sheep, symbolic of the apostolic church. Above the vault of the dome
those same twelve sheep, as it were, are ranged towards the figure of Christ
whose hand is raised in episcopal blessing, alongside of whom are the
symbols of the four evangelists.
The mosaic portrays the mission of the Church in the proclamation of the
Gospel and the cure of souls. It tells this story. St. Apollinaris is
sent forth as the shepherd to the sheep under the sign of the cross, even as
the twelve apostles who are the sheep, too, of the shepherd are sent forth
to be the shepherds of the sheep in the name and with the blessing of the
Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, for he, too, is the Lamb
of God. To put it all rather simply: the shepherds are also the sheep of the
Good Shepherd who is also the Lamb of God; “a sacrifice for sin and an
example of godly life”; our cure and the one who cares for us.
But, quite apart from the ancient mosaics in Ravenna and the countless
depictions in stone and glass, in tapestry and song of Christ the Good
Shepherd, have we not had a most wondrous example of sacrificial
shepherding care in Pope John Paul II? His shepherding care, not
only, it seems to me, for the Roman Catholic Church, not even for all
Christians in a profound sense, but for all humanity, really, was rooted and
grounded in the shepherding care of Christ, the Good Shepherd of us all
and the Lamb of God. That dual sense of shepherding care and
crucifying cure was made visible in the suffering apostolate of
John Paul II. It remains as one of the great images for our age,
recalling us to our mission and life in Christ. While engaging the world in
all of its confusions, he steadfastly refused to compromise the basic
doctrines of the faith to accommodate particular agendas and programmes.
That has been, it seems to me, the North American disease in particular, the
demand that the gospel be reduced to the sensual and the practical. But then
it ceases to be the gospel. Then there is no care, only the kindness that
We meet in the care of the Good Shepherd. His Word is proclaimed; his
Sacraments are celebrated. Here is his care and his cure for
us. Where the Word and the Sacraments are faithfully proclaimed and
celebrated, there is the Church without which there is no care, no cure.
Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd of our souls through the Church, his body,
by which he gives us his Word, and the tangible and effective signs of his
care for us, his Sacraments. His care is rooted in his love for us. That
love is our cure. Quite simply, Jesus is our cure who cares for us, provided
that we hear the voice of the one who says
“I am the Good Shepherd”.